Eighty households in Washington County will get bottled water and state-funded filtration systems because their drinking water exceeds a new federal safety standard for industrial chemicals that have long contaminated groundwater in the area.
The Minnesota Department of Health made the announcement Tuesday morning as it reviews the effect of new, more stringent federal standards for the chemicals, known as PFCs, which were used at a local 3M Co. plant decades ago.
In addition, state regulators will sample 400 to 500 wells within the area of contamination in coming months and offer bottled water and filters to households that don’t meet the new standard.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said new scientific research showed that its health standard for two chemicals in the family of PFCs is no longer valid. It advised states and municipal drinking water systems across the country to reduce the amount of chemicals from 300 or 400 parts per trillion down to 70 — a significant difference.
The chemicals were used for decades in the manufacture of carpets, clothing, fabrics, furniture, food packaging and other materials, such as nonstick cookware and firefighting foam, the Health Department said. They have been phased out of industrial use for the most part, but traces can still be found throughout the environment and they are a major contaminant in fish.
Long-term exposure to PFCs has been linked to certain cancers, liver and thyroid ailments, and developmental problems in infants.
Since the EPA announced the new advisory, hundreds of affected communities across the country have been scrambling to meet it.
In Minnesota, only the communities in Washington County have been affected. Bemidji’s drinking water also showed PFC contamination from an old site where firefighting foam was used in training, but the city blends the contaminated water with clean water, bringing PFC concentrations below the new advisory of 70 parts per trillion, state officials said Tuesday.
About 81 homes in Washington County already have carbon water filters in place to reduce contaminants to acceptable levels; several other homes have been provided bottled water instead of filters at the homeowners’ requests, the Health Department said in its statement Tuesday.
The 3M Co. disposed of products containing PFCs, including PFOA and PFOS, in a landfill and three dump sites in Washington County starting in the 1940s until sometime in the 1970s. Groundwater contaminated with PFCs was first discovered in the area in 2002.
The Health Department and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have been monitoring local water since then and working on a groundwater cleanup.
The state and 3M have agreed on a plan to fix drinking water contamination, but a lawsuit over the costs of environmental cleanup of groundwater and the Mississippi River is ongoing. It is expected to go to trial sometime next year.